Ferdinand Magellan was born in Sabrosa, Portugal, in 1480 into a noble family. After serving as a court page for two years, his adventurous spirit led him to a career as an explorer. In 1506, Magellan went to the Spice Islands (Indonesia) to participate in several military and exploratory expeditions. In 1510, he was promoted to the rank of captain. In 1512, he was stationed in Morocco and made preliminary plans to find a western shortcut to the Spice Islands. Unfortunately, Portugal’s king, Emmanuel, refused to finance his journey, and in 1517, Magellan renounced his Portuguese citizenship. He promptly offered his services to King Charles I of Spain. Charles I agreed to finance Magellan’s trip in the hopes of becoming the king of the richest nation in the world.
On September 20, 1519, Magellan and 237 crew members set sail on five ships from Sanlucar de Barrameda in the hopes of finding a shortcut to the Spice Islands. After three long months of sailing the Atlantic, Magellan and his crew anchored near Rio de Janeiro in the present-day South American nation of Brazil. After trading with local natives, Magellan and his men quickly set sail again, ever worried about the threat of Portuguese ships. As the expedition continued, the weather got worse, and several crew members were executed for trying to take over the ship. Others were starving or suffering from frostbite. As the ships neared the southern tip of South America, one ship smashed into the beach and lost all supplies. Nevertheless, in October of 1520, Magellan and his crew crossed the treacherous straits at the tip of South America, which became known as the Straits of Magellan.
Trouble in the Pacific Ocean
As the expedition passed through the straits, they entered the vast Pacific Ocean. Things got worse before they got better. The crew suffered from extreme hunger and was forced to survive by eating rats, sawdust, leather, and even maggots. At least 20 men died from disease, particularly scurvy (caused by a lack of vitamin C) and starvation. On March 6, the ships finally reached land—the Pacific island of Guam. Nevertheless, the crew members were able to collect clean water and food, despite being on the alert for attacks by the natives. Soon, the crew sailed to the Philippine Islands, where they converted natives to Christianity. During an attempt to convert the native chief, Mactan, to Christianity, Magellan was wounded by an arrow that was driven through his foot by a native warrior. Mactan, who had become upset with Magellan’s insistence that he convert, ordered his warriors to attack. They killed Magellan on April 27, 1521. Most of Magellan’s crew escaped and set sail.
Famous Drawing of Magellan's Death
Return to Spain
With the loss of their leader, Juan Sebastian del Cano took control of the ship and sailed for Spain. Only two ships and 47 men remained. Portuguese forces captured one of the ships, leaving the Victoria as the only ship left. Severe storms and Portuguese attacks battered the Victoria. As Portuguese forces bore down on the expedition near the Cape Verde Islands, del Cano was forced to continue toward Spain without supplies or rest. Finally, on September 8, 1522, the Victoria made it back to Spain with only 18 men surviving, hence completing the first circumnavigation of the world.
Map Showing Landmarks Named by and for Magellan (Mare Pacificum; Frenum Magaliani)
Ferdinand Magellan Activities
- Ferdinand Magellan Printable Activities Bundle - This packet contains all of the printable Ferdinand Magellan activities on mrnussbaum.com
- Ferdinand Magellan Reading Comprehension - Printable - This resource includes a historical passage and seven multiple choice questions.
- Ferdinand Magellan Reading Comprehension - Online This resource includes a historical passage and ten multiple choice questions. It gives immediate feedback. In addition, when you click the "listen" button, you can hear the passage while it highlights the text.
- Sequencing the Life of Ferdinand Magellan - Printable - This fun activity requires students to read a Ferdinand Magellan passage and then, to sequence ten events of his life from earliest to latest
- Scurvy Reading Comprehension - Printable - This resource includes a historical passage and seven multiple choice questions.
- Scurvy Reading Comprehension - Online -
This resource includes a historical passage and seven multiple choice questions. It gives immediate feedback. In addition, when you click the "listen" button, you can hear the passage while it highlights the text.
- Scurvy, a Simple but Elusive Explanation Writing Prompt - This activity requires students to write about a modern mystery that they think will be solved by humans in the future - in the same way that the cause of Scurvy was a mystery for hundreds of years.
- The Sick Ship - This activity explains common diseases that sailors contracted such as scurvy, yellow fever, cholera, typhoid, and others. It then requires students to play the role of a ship doctor and to diagnose sick sailors based on their symptoms.
- Fact or Fiction - Printable - This fun activity requires students to read a Ferdinand Magellan passage and then, to sort 10 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction.
- Fact or Fiction - Online - This fun activity requires students to read a Ferdinand Magellan passage and then, to sort 10 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction. It gives immediate feedback.
- Ferdinand Magellan Correct-me Passage - This fun activity requires students to correct a passage about Ferdinand Magellan that has ten factual errors. Students first must discover the errors, then click on them and select the correct answer from the drop down menu.
- Virtual History Teacher - Ferdinand Magellan - Students play the role of a virtual history teacher and must grade responses to three questions about Ferdinand Magellan. Each response is incomplete, and students must fill in the missing information in the "response" section. Students can use the Ferdinand Magellan biography for reference.
- Ferdinand Magellan - Main Idea and Supporting Details - Below are three headings at the beginnings of paragraphs. Below the chart are the associated supporting detail sentences. Which sentences would appear under which heading? Use the numbers before the sentences so you don’t have to write the entire sentence. Order matters!
- Explorers Timeline - the Game - This fun and challenging game requires students to correctly order Age of Exploration events along the timeline. Very fun, but very challenging.